Building a Family-Friendly Dream Home

Buying your first family home is exciting and anxiety-provoking in equal measure. Moving up from a rental apartment to a house of your own is something that needs to be handled with care. When preparing to buy a house, or build a new property, several things need consideration, including checking to make sure the home is sufficient for your family needs. Listed below, you’ll find several items to look at to make sure your house is perfect for your family.

Big Yard

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Image via Flickr by moonlightbulb

The first place your children will play is the immediate vicinity of your house. Your yard’s size makes all the difference in creating an exciting environment for your kids to explore. At the same time, you’ll need to keep an eye out for potential hazards like hidden creeks or other hazards that unsuspecting children could fall in, or dying trees that could collapse as your kids climb them. Moreover, a large front yard with a porch is a perfect place to socialize with your friends while maintaining your ability to watch the children.

Convenient Location

There are many destinations you’ll want to take your family to, and there is almost no way you’ll find a home close to all of them. That said, some things are more important than others. If you live within an easy walk of a school, you can be more confident that your kids will get there with a minimum of risk. Nearby parks or libraries give you weekend activities that are family-friendly, as do museums and other cultural centers. A grocery storewithin easy driving distance can help when extreme weather makes travel difficult.

Good Climate Control

Your family will be spending a lot of time in your home. In certain seasons, particularly the winter and the summer, you’ll need a strong climate control system to help keep your family happy and healthy. When looking for a home, consider visiting on a warm or cold day so you can see how efficiently the system works. Of course, it is hard to get a really good idea of how it will work in extreme circumstances. Performing basic maintenance regularly, and finding ways to help the system keep from working too hard, can work wonders to extend the life of your HVAC.

Room to Grow

You may think you’ve got a good handle on how large your family will be, but life has a way of surprising you. When buying or building your home, think hard about the number of rooms you’ll need. Ideally, we recommend figuring out how many children you want to have, and then adding one. The extra room will be helpful if your family ends up with an unexpected addition, and in the meantime, you can use the spare rooms for home offices or spare bedrooms for visitors.

While the list of things to check in a new house is long, it is less complicated than it first appears. Most of your family’s needs are straightforward and just need a level head and clear thought to puzzle out. Take the time to figure out what you need in a house, and you will not be sorry.

Does Closing HVAC Vents Save Money?

As seasons change and your monthly utility bills increase with heating and cooling costs, you might be looking for ways to save money. Many homeowners resort to closing vents in rooms where they don’t spend much time to cut costs. Learn why closing the vents isn’t a viable option and how this practice can actually raise your home’s energy costs.

High-Efficiency Systems Are More Common

Newer furnaces have higher efficiency ratings than their older counterparts. When a high-efficiency system operates, the system produces suction from the return air duct. With closed vents, this pressure can pull cold air from outside through exterior doors, small cracks around the windows, or electrical boxes on exterior walls. Warmed air can be pushed out of those leaky spots in the home, leading to as much as 15 percent of energy being lost and wasted.

Closing Vents Can Damage the Unit

8221982_3c0d43a4d0Image via Flickr by Justin Baeder

Closing vents in rooms of your home can actually cause damage to your furnace. When the unit has to work too hard to distribute air, problems can occur within the furnace, leading to costly repairs. In some cases, irreparable damage might require you to replace the unit altogether.

Restricted Air Flow Can Lead to Home Safety Concerns

If you close more than half of the vents in your home, other safety concerns, such as frozen coils or furnaces operating on the high-limit switch, can develop. In these cases, air flow can become restricted as that air attempts to move through the ducts.

If you have frozen coils within your unit, shut off the system completely to allow the coils to defrost. When your furnace operates on the high-limit setting, the overuse can not only increase your energy bills, but also decrease the system’s efficiency and even cause damage to the system itself.

Closing Vents Increases the Pressure

When you shut the vents in various rooms, you’ll have an increase in pressure, forcing the system to work harder to heat and cool than if all the vents were open. These higher pressure levels can push heated or cooled air through any leaks in ducts, causing energy loss. Closing air vents closest to the handler increase the pressure the most, so always keep these register locations open.

Bring in an Expert for an Efficiency Audit

Instead of trying to close your registers to cut heating and cooling costs, consider bringing in an HVAC professional to check your system and look for reasons behind system inefficiencies. Even a simple vent cleaning or filter replacement could reduce your energy bills, so you won’t have to worry about damaging the furnace. In fact, these options can actually lengthen the lifespan of your unit while improving the efficiency and money savings for your household’s budget each month.

To conserve energy and lower your utility bills, start with properly maintaining your home’s HVAC system. However, closing the air vents isn’t a smart option. Follow the tips provided here to help you maximize your HVAC system’s operating efficiency.

Infographic: Pump Up the Savings with Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are one of the biggest trends in home heating and cooling. A heat pump — a refrigeration system that can either heat or cool your home, depending on the time of year — comes in two parts: an air handler, which is the indoor unit, and an outdoor unit that looks like a traditional air conditioning system. By cycling refrigerant between the two, a heat pump can keep your home at a moderate temperature all year round.

Heat pumps are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and for good reason. Heat pump systems are notable for their efficiency, which can bring significant savings to your monthly energy bill by using electricity instead of gas. Moreover, heat pumps are more environmentally friendly than traditional heating and cooling systems; unlike traditional systems, which generate heat, heat pumps merely transfer it. And because heat pumps can both heat and cool a home, you might be able to forgo both an air conditioner and a furnace, depending on the climate in which you live. Heat pumps can even heat your water efficiently, taking over much of the role of a hot water heater.

Although heat pumps do require a significant investment up front, the energy savings they bring more than justifies their cost. If you someday sell your home, you’ll be pleased to find that energy-efficient homes typically bring higher prices on the market. To learn why a heat pump might be right for you, read the following infographic, originally syndicated by Griffith Energy Services.

Things to Consider When Remodeling the Kitchen

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One of the most popular rooms to remodel is the kitchen. This is because so much of the heart of a home is in the kitchen. A person wants their kitchen to reflect their lifestyle. It should be perfect for the style of cooking that they do and the amount of space they need for entertaining, dining, and storing cooking utensils.

The core of the kitchen should match the architecture of the rest of the home. The kitchen is at the center of the majority of the gatherings that people have. It’s just a nice place to get together, talk, drink a glass of wine, and snack on food as it’s being prepared. High up on the list of a kitchen remodel is selecting the right appliances and cabinets. These are what set the tone for the entire room.

When meeting with remodeling contractors, the first thing to discuss is what you want to get out of the kitchen. It’s good to have this clear in mind simply because remodeling the kitchen is a difficult task. And if you as a homeowner do not have clear goals in mind, things can easily get muddled and the project could go over budget.

Some of the things to keep in mind include the size you want the kitchen to be. The location of the windows and their orientation perspective to the sunlight. How will the kitchen be connected to adjacent rooms? And what role will the condition of the existing building play in the kitchen remodel options?

When discussing the size of the kitchen, it is good to remember that every inch of space is important, especially if you’re trying to remodel a small kitchen. The size is going to determine how you will lay the kitchen out. Is there sufficient space for an island? Will you have room to install a prep sink? Are there nooks and crannies that can serve as extra storage? Can you add space to the kitchen by knocking out a wall or extending your home? All of these are questions that you will want to talk to your designer or architect about.

Do not allow the existing layout of the kitchen to bar your vision. If the windows and the doors of the kitchen are not where you want them, move them. If there is a wall that is in the wrong place, modify it. The goal is to create a kitchen that reflects you, that works with your workflow, and that will accommodate your cooking routine.

Photo source : artur84 from www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Choose the Perfect Artificial Christmas Tree

Purchasing an artificial Christmas tree can be an effective and convincing alternative to decorating your home with a real tree. Compared to traditional Christmas trees, artificial trees require less maintenance and don’t create a sticky, sappy mess. When the first artificial trees entered stores, there were only a handful of models to choose from. Today, artificial trees can be purchased in all shapes and sizes to accommodate any living space. Pre-lit trees make decorating easier than ever before and branches that lock in place guarantee your valuable ornaments will stay hanging till the tree is boxed up in January.

The Right Price

Artificial trees generally cost anywhere between $100-$1000 depending on size, quality, and features. The first artificial trees were cheaply made and poorly replicated the aesthetic of a real tree. Today, even the least expensive artificial trees are relatively convincing. Although your artificial tree will never have the distinct piney aroma of a real tree, the more you are willing to spend, the more realistic artificial trees become. Some brands even offer trees that are made from the molds of real Norwegian spruce branches and various fir types. Cheaper artificial trees often carry two to three year warranties, with premium models insured for up to 10 years.

Lights all Night 

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Photo by allison.johnston via Flickr 

Pre-lit trees take away nearly all the hassle of decorating your tree, just hang up your ornaments and you’re done. Although pre-lit trees usually cost more than purchasing an unlit tree and going through the process of stringing lights, the time saved will convince most people to purchase a pre-lit tree. Pre-lit trees come in a variety of colors, and some even contain multi-color and white lights.

The Height of the Season

Have you ever bought a Christmas tree that scraped the ceiling once you brought it inside? Although artificial trees can be returned to the store if they don’t fit, assembling and disassembling them is a bit of a pain. Never purchase a new tree without first measuring the height of the ceiling. An average tree is roughly 7.5 feet tall, which should fit in most houses, but you can never be too careful. If you’re trying to deck the halls with a truly epic tree (10 feet or more) measuring the ceiling can become a do-or-die endeavor. Always measure twice, but only purchase once.

Handsome Firs
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Photo by Krystal B via Flickr

Artificial trees come in an array of styles. In fact, Christmas Lights Etc. offers 14 varieties of trees with different replicant firs including Fraser, Carolina, Noble, Balsam, Hunter, Douglas and more. Choosing the right fir and texture can help beautify your home without the use of lights, giving it a more natural aesthetic than your typical Christmas decorum.

A Place to Hibernate

Purchasing an artificial tree makes sense. With less mess, less maintenance, and no annual cost after the initial purchase, the artificial tree is theoretically superior to the traditional tree in nearly every way. However, there is one glaring drawback. When we’re done celebrating Christmas with a traditional tree, we throw it away or recycle it. Artificial trees have to be disassembled and stored, and they take up a lot of space. Designating a storage area before purchasing is important, otherwise that enormous box may end up in your living room come New Years Eve.

Purchasing the right artificial tree can save you from having to purchase another tree down the road. You wouldn’t pick the first real tree you saw at a farm would you? Shopping for artificial trees requires the same level of commitment and attention, but you won’t have to buy another tree next year.